Ploughing the fields. Gardener’s Worlds.


Welcome back to another blog hop, with #OpenBook. Here’s this week’s prompt.

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Do any of your characters garden? Or keep houseplants? How about you?


What many of my characters do is not so much gardening as survival, by farming in space. It’s a subject that I return to again and again. It all started with Reevis, the airless world that features in my second novel, Ribbonworld. The planet needed a food supply, what more logical way than by having their own farm? It proved to be a useful addition to the plot, giving me scope to expand the story in ways I hadn’t previously considered. Researching how it could be done gave me a lot of information and convinced me that it wasn’t just possible, it was essential to the authenticity of the story.

More about the reasons behind that statement later.

Then I had an idea for a short story set on a farm in space. There was a conspiracy and… well, never mind, it was a lot of fun to write and gave me another use for all that research. I called it (rather unimaginatively) The Orbital Livestock Company. Click the title for a free copy.

My reasoning for its existence was that, with land at a premium on Earth and the harmful effects of methane as a greenhouse gas, it would be more appropriate to grow produce and livestock on a space station. Of course, plot-wise, it gave the farmers all kinds of power over the people on the surface, who were relying on the farm for life itself.

Anyhow, from that short story and the work I’d done in creating working farms in alien environments grew the farms on the space mine off Saturn and its duplicate in the tunnels of Tharsis on Mars. They feature, as does The Orbital Livestock Company, in my Andorra Pett series of adventures.

Away from their use in plotting, part of their attraction was a practical one. The methane produced by the livestock has a natural use in powering a space station. This made it a solution instead of a problem. Not only that, that trees and plants on these farms helped with the oxygen cycle in their enclosed environments.

There was one other big factor in their favour. If you’re living on a space station orbiting Saturn, or an airless planet with a large population, how do you supply it with enough food for all the inhabitants? Since a fleet of spaceships is a trifle impractical, even in a utopian future, having your own farm in situ is the best way of doing the job.

I actually got a lot of inspiration from a local company, which uses a lot of modern farming methods that could be readily transferred into space. My imagination ran riot and I devised all sorts of clever ideas for luxury items, such as moving tanks to simulate the sea (for growing lobsters) and those small swimming pools with the current generator for fish (like Salmon) that prefer to live in moving water.


Personally, I’m not a gardener, that’s my wife’s hobby. All I do is lift the bags of compost and whatever else she needs into position. Although I have planted quite a few trees in my time and dug a few ponds, my real interest is in hydroponics, aquaponics and vertical farming.


These are the sorts of techniques our great-grandchildren will use to survive, either here on Earth or out in the big black.


Until next week.



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8 Responses

    • Richard Dee

      I limit my stories to growing that which will keep my characters alive, the rest is pretty but unnecessary.

  1. Stevie Turner

    You have a very fertile imagination, Richard! I’m not a gardener either, and really have no interest in it. I do it because I have to.

    • Richard Dee

      I don’t mind helping, but I have no idea about the technicalities.

  2. Daryl Devore

    hi – you claim you aren’t a gardener – I think you should say you aren’t a terrestrial farmer. I downloaded you book. Looking forward to reading it 🙂
    Tweeted.

    • Richard Dee

      I enjoy devising the way to make it work, the theory is fascinating. I hope you enjoy the short story.

  3. P.J. MacLayne

    Disney World (Epcot Center) in Florida has a whole environment with hydroponics, aquaponics and vertical farming. It’s fascinating, but the ride through it doesn’t give you enough time to study the features

    • Richard Dee

      There is an environmental park near us that uses the same methods.

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